Top 10 Black Sitcoms From the ’90s: Remember When There Were More Than Two

The other day I was thinking about all of the black comedies that were on television when I was growing up. To some extent, The WB was built on the backs of these shows. The only line-ups that could contend with NBC’s Must See TV was over on FOX with Living Single, Martin, and New York Undercover. Even TGIF’s block had a black show (Hanging with Mr. Cooper) sidled up to Full House and Step by Step. I never had to think to myself, “where are the people that look like me?” because they were there, in abundance, everywhere I looked. This was a time before there were 300 channels and I had about 7 channels in my rotation. There were even shows like Good Times, 227, The Cosby Show, A Different World, and The Jeffersons in syndication so it was obvious that there had been black people on television for a minute. Then it sort of tapered off. We still had Girlfriends, The Parkers, One on One, The Bernie Mac Show, That’s So Raven, and a couple others. Then there were the few. Then it sort of just stopped. Keep in mind, I’m not that old so these are only 90s shows I legitimately remember watching during their original runs. I mean, my parents were in high school when The Cosby Show started airing so shows from the late 80s that snuck into the early 90s didn’t really make an impact on me because I was either not alive or but a wee babe. I apologize for not being older than I am, it is my greatest strength and weakness.

But back to the point: there were SO MANY. Take a look at this list of shows I didn’t include that you all are going to yell at me for not including: In the House, Malcolm and Eddie, In Living Color, Family Matters, Hanging with Mr. Cooper, The Steve Harvey Show, and The Parent ‘Hood. And that’s still not all of them! On to the list!


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ0MlTqVAy0

10. The Wayans Bros.

1995-1999 The WB

Did you know The Wayans Bros. was the first show The WB ever aired? This was back in the days when if you were a truly successful comedic act, you’d probably end up having a show with your name on it. The brothers were coming off a successful stint on In Living Color and this show helped launch them into a movie career which eventually brought us the Scary Movie franchise and White Chicks. Not to mention all the catchphrases John Whitherspoon as Pops (which is the character he plays in basically everything) gave us. The show capitalized on Shawn’s ability to effectively straight man the over-the-top physical comedy of Marlon and nothing stands the test of time better than good physical comedy.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lTBUDBq8xw

 9. Kenan and Kel

1996-2000 Nickelodeon

The show was created by Kim Bass who co-created Sister, Sister and starred All That cast members Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. This was one of the shows meant for kids that I remember my mom also watched; no one could talk about orange soda for years without her breaking into Kel’s orange soda jingle. Thompson is now a cast member on Saturday Night Live.


jett

 8. The Famous Jett Jackson

1998-2001 Disney

I think this show was single-handedly responsible for the uptick in black preteens and teenagers wearing colored contacts because of Lee Thompson Young‘s hazel eyes. He pretty much invented the drop head slightly, raise eyebrows thing that’s come to be a staple in every Disney star’s repertoire. He also raised one eyebrow a lot and this was slightly before I got super into The Rock and “The People’s” everything. The more I think about it, the more I’m concerned my gender identity might be Jett Jackson? He went on to play Detective Frost in our favorite lesbian baity television program, Rizzoli and Isles before his death in 2013.


smartguy

7. Smart Guy

1997-1999 The WB

T.J. Henderson (played by Tia and Tamera Mowry‘s younger brother, Tahj) was a cute chump of a kid and tiny genius and his sister was a fellow smarty pants and women’s rights activist so what was there not to like? (answer: below) This show was almost immediately airing on Disney Channel after it got canceled so it was a constant presence in my life for about five years. I would like to state for the official record that I was never on board with the Mo and Yvette sexual tension and like to believe she went on to fight the good fight of bisexuality once she got to college.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YD_Er1Jq-o

 6. The Jamie Foxx Show

1996-2001 The WB

I miss a time where a show could spend four minutes just to have a dance-off between two characters. This series was powered by the constant face-offs between Jamie and bougie co-worker Braxton escalating the light skin vs. dark skin battle to levels never before seen in the black community. The show made it damn near socially acceptable to put your hand in someone’s face while making the noise of a braking car. It also made ‘broham’ a thing people said which was great. Jamie Foxx is obviously insanely talented and likable and this show proved it time and time again.


moesha

5. Moesha

1996-2001 UPN

This show was huge. They would bring on whomever they damn well pleased regardless of whether they could act or not. Ginuwine! Master P! All of Dru Hill! It also got DARK. There was some real shit that happened on the show. What I remember most was not liking Q and thinking Frank was corny. Let’s all fondly recall the time before Ray-J was a skeezeball.


sistersister

4. Sister, Sister

1994-1999 ABC and The WB

This show began with a dude agreeing to let two STRANGERS move into his house, let’s never forget that. This show also survived the twins graduating and going to college which was truly a feat. It was, in my opinion, star studded: Marques Houston, Gabrielle Union, Brittany Murphy, Jackée Harry, and everyone’s favorite foreverteen, Bianca Lawson. You couldn’t be in a bad mood while watching Sister, Sister.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5P-Qgfl7Sc

3. Living Single

1993-1998 FOX

Living Single was the original Friends. The Brooklyn sextet showcased young black people in their 20s with a variety of jobs and outlooks on life. It often found Queen Latifah in tank tops as her character Khadijah and Erika Alexander‘s Maxine eating leftovers like a boss. That cast truly seemed to enjoy each other and it had one of the dopest theme songs of all time. I’d like that song to be played at my funeral while all my friends diddy bop, holding back tears.


martin

2. Martin

1992-1997 Fox

This show was IT. It was The Thing. It still continues to be V. Important. “Damn, Gina” has even made a resurgence in popular culture despite that not being a catchphrase? We stuck with this show through everything: the weird cartoon head sequence, the on set controversies, Martin’s weird obsession with “being a man.” This show scarred me as a child because I was very into taekwondo and my family members called me Dragonfly Jones which I thought was mean and cried about publicly on one occasion. Martin Lawrence played many other roles on the show, the most memorable being Jerome and Sheneneh. Other characters worth remembering fondly are Bruh Man and Hustle Man (Tracy Morgan).


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6l6tBziOEw

1. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

1990-1996 NBC

Has anyone in the history of everdom heard someone say they don’t like this show? It’s the most universally loved show of all time, point blank, period. The first time I came to LA, the only place I wanted to see was Bel-Air. The bungee jump proposal is the funniest most heartbreaking scene of all time. R.I.P. Trevor. Will Smith is our nation’s greatest treasure.


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Brittani Nichols is a Los Angeles based comedy person. When she's not tweeting about white people or watching television, she's probably eating pizza. Actually, she's probably doing all three of those things concurrently and when she's not doing THAT, she's sleeping. Brittani also went to Yale and feels weird about mentioning it but wants you to know.

Brittani has written 330 articles for us.

44 Comments

  1. I was absolutely obsessed with the Famous Jett Jackson, That’s So Raven, Sister, Sister and Smart Guy. The only shows that I watched as much as those were Lizzie McGuire and Boy Meets World. I miss these shows dearly and you’re right – they have way less TV shows starring black families. Which is dumb because all of the ones you listed that I’ve seen ruled. And I also loved the Cosby Show when I was a kid. Will Smith, we love you.

  2. True story: I made out with my new bae for the first time to Sister, Sister just a few weeks ago.

    Lee Thompson Young was one of my first celeb crushes. The Famous Jett Jackson was one of my favorite Disney shows.

    Living Single is the best thing ever. I love everything about it. Max is my role model (rolling over to eat free food and shit-talk men constantly while having mad sexual tension and eventually hate-sex with her nemesis? Genius).

    It’s fucked up. People deserve media that represents and respects them. All of these were awesome, successful shows.

  3. Oh man… I tried to watch an episode of the new show “Black-ish” the other day… It was so bad.

    It lured me in with an episode called “the nod”… And I was like “yay! New Cosby show?” But finally had to turn it off when the main guy told his wife she wasn’t really black, because she’s biracial. Ew.

      • Yeah, I’ve watched (all?) 4 episodes so far and the granddad is the only good thing. It’s just so…ham-fisted in trying to address racial issues, while subscribing to the same painful gendered stereostypes as any other terrible sitcom (and also a few really unnecessary homophobic lines).

        I want to like it, but I can’t stand the main character and the entire show is built around his ego so it’s hard to tolerate even despite him.

    • I LEGIT LOVED THAT SHOW. It had zero relevance to my life because I mean it’s about grown up shenanigans (dating, jobs, car trouble) and I was but a wee grade schooler (nerdy, bullied, read a lot of scifi) and their problems and preoccupations =/= my problems/preoccupations, but I watched it every damn morning before going to the bus stop. That and Beast Wars.

  4. I remember watching pretty much all these shows, I was reminiscing as I was watching a clip from In Living Color, which featured Jamie Foxx and Ed O’Neil, how there aren’t classic shows like this anymore on tv

    Also, I was half expecting to see Family Matters on this list, a long with The Parent Hood, which featured Robert Townsend.

  5. Oh my gosh, Moesha was my favorite show when I was in high school.
    I freaking worshipped Brandy.

    I love this post so much.
    I miss all of these shows that made me laugh for like my entire childhood and beyond.

    Do you remember that show, Dance 360, that was on late at night like 10 years ago and was hosted by Kel Mitchell and the dude who played Q on Moesha??!

    ALSO I started watching Rizzoli and Isles for Angie Harmon, but when I realized The Famous Jett Jackson was on it, I was fucking SOLD.
    Like, swoon.
    It was really upsetting that his death was barely acknowledged by the media.
    🙁

    Have I already told you I love this post?
    Thank you for these beautiful memories of the best tv shows.

    I wish there were still such diverse representations of human beings on awesome tv shows/on tv like AT ALL.

    For real, what happened?
    It’s bullshit.

  6. First of all #JusticeforDarkSkinAuntViv

    Martin, Sister Sister and Living Single were EVERYTHINg to me. I caught thses shows in mostly reruns since I was a tiny lil baby (est. 1992)when most were on.

    As I get older I am realizing that I hipped Pam and Gina before I understood what any of that meant.

    • Oh god. Sometimes I wondered if Homeboys in Outer Space was just something I dreamed up as a kid because it’s like…no one ever talks about it.

      I still vaguely remember the corny-ass theme song too.

  7. The Famous Jett Jackson was legit one of my favorite shows ever as a kid. I re-watched it after Lee Thompson Young passed and it still holds up, imo. Every time I remember he’s gone I get really upset all over again. 🙁

  8. This is something I’ve definitely thought about!—how I happened to grow up in a cultural moment when a huge part of mainstream pop culture was black pop culture. I never gave it a second thought as a little (white) kid; strange now to realize that was kind of a historical anomaly.

    • Yeah, for as much that people seem to believe that “straight white male” is the norm and everything else is “other,” I never consciously thought of the fact that these people were a different race from myself. People don’t give kids enough credit. Racism is definitely taught. And it’s important that all people are represented. Plus these shows were just generally superior haha

    • Totally agree. I get caught assuming that everyone my age was really into late 90’s R&B and hip-hop so it shocks me when I’m constantly having to explain who Black cultural figures are from that time period. Like my girlfriend consistently forgetting who Lauryn Hill is whenever Doo Wop plays on the radio, or my dropped-jaw whenever I have to explain who Aaliyah or a member from TLC is.

  9. The recent upswing of Living Single gifsets on Tumblr is, lately, one of the only reasons I still get on that site. Best. Show. Especially now that I’m actually old enough to really appreciate it.

    Side note: can’t believe my parents let me watch shows like Martin and Living Single when I was all of, what, 7 years old. Not complaining though!

    But yeah, now that I think about it the last two sitcoms I explicitly remember making it a point to watch were Girlfriends (massive crush on Tracee Ellis Ross, jfc) and Half and Half (solely because of a massive crush on Rachel True). After those finally went off the air…what was left? I legit don’t remember.

  10. And back in my day, A Different World. (Gather round, whippersnappers.) That was The Show. I remember my mom talking to us about Rodney King after we watched the Rodney King riots episode. I loved that it was so much fun but also socially conscious.

    I loved so many of these shows. I never thought of Living Single as black Friends, but from now on I’m going to use it as my rebuttal whenever people ask why I’ve never seen an episode of Friends. Much more relevant to my life.

    This was such a walk down memory lane; I grew up watching most of these. I don’t really watch much TV anymore, so I hadn’t even realized that that was a golden age.

  11. ALL THESE THINGS.

    I never saw girlfriends but Roxane Gay wrote a whole essay about it in Bad Feminist and I would really like to, now.

    Once I made friends with a non-sketch dude on the bus who was like “how’s it going” and I was like,”oh. yknow. chillin out. maxin. relaxin all cool.” and he was like,”oh, on your way to shoot some b-ball outside of the school?” and we basically bantered that way for the rest of the bus ride.

    Also, this is a gift for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aIoTgy4zvo

  12. I loved all of these shows and would also add “Family Matters,” “The Cosby Show,” and “Proud Family” into the mix of “shows I watched a ton of as a kid.”

    But the biggest takeaway I had from this article is I had no idea Lee Thompson Young died so tragically. 🙁 Between Famous Jett Jackson and Johnny Tsunami, Lee was one of my favorite Disney Channel kids. So sad his death wasn’t talked about more.

  13. I was NOT allowed to watch Martin and Living Single as a wee youth and I’ve only recently started watching them (shout out to TV one for playing the shit out of old black sitcoms) and my life is so fulfilled.

    Also, Jett Jackson :(((((
    Ugh. So sad.

  14. Hi yes I have been thinking about this a lot recently – “this” being the previous abundance/present dearth of black TV shows. I was born in 90 and I watched tv with a nigh religious passion as a young child, and I think my favorite shows were about 50% black sitcoms, 25% animated stuff, and 25% mostly white people shows. Like, sister sister, fresh prince, boy meets world, beast wars. It was a good time.

    TV was so fun back then, and I know part of that was because I was still in the single digits and was unfamiliar with clichés and fairly uncritical, but also they just had good TV. I only watched cable at my grandparents’ house (because they actually had cable, and also they did not know how to interact with children, which, what? you raised 2 kids, how did you cope), and I feel like the ratio was similar there. Family matters + Star Trek + the Cosby show + Disney channel. I had huge crushes on Captain Kirk and will smith when I was 8 or 9 as a result. Also Michael Jordan for some reason? Even though I never watched sports? Probably because of space jam honestly.

    I was a little white kid with somewhat anti-racist parents, so I only rarely thought about the “blackness” of half the shows I watched – it was just normal to me I guess? And when I was real little I went to a school in little rock that was like 80/20 black/white and then moved to St. Louis and mostly white suburban schools for 2nd grade onward, so I feel like the black sitcoms might’ve been a way to deal with the weirdness of the racial tensions at school. St. Louis is pretty fucked up about race, which I knew wayyyyyyy before ferguson and Michael brown. Um, tl;dr I guess, sorry as always. I just have a lot of nostalgia/wistfulness/sense of loss about this. 🙁

  15. I’ve pretty much watched each and every single show listed here and enjoyed many of them.

    Sister, Sister and Family Matters are my childhood favorites. Love them and will still watch an episode if I happen to catch it on.

    Something I’ll always remember is Steve Urkel saying: “Did I do that?”

  16. I’m so glad I grew up in a time when half to 3/4 of TGIF was black sitcoms (Family Matters, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, and Sister Sister, though I don’t remember if they were ever all on TGIF at once). Also glad to have watched hours of reruns of Fresh Prince and A Different World as a tween, even though a lot of it went over my head. It’s only as an adult that I realized how much I absorbed from those shows about racism being a real, ongoing problem, and I’m grateful for that. I hate that there aren’t really current equivalents of all those awesome shows.

  17. Wow, this is such a throwback! I’ve pretty much watched all these shows, and I appreciate that I got to grow up on shows like these. Yes they were entertaining, but there were so many great life lessons embedded in them as well. I feel like TV nowadays isn’t the same! Loved these shows!

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